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The Night I Bought My 1978 128 Rally
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Thread: The Night I Bought My 1978 128 Rally

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    Senior Member HalfPint's Avatar
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    The Night I Bought My 1978 128 Rally

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    I don't know what got me thinking about it, but I suddenly remembered the night I found my first Fiat. It would have been 1984, and I was a junior home for Christmas break. My old '66 Mustang had about had it, and my Dad agreed I should get something else so I started looking around at local dealer used lots. One night well after dark, and about 7degF out I stopped at a Dodge dealer, and there was this strange car there. Bright yellow with black stripes, it was a Fiat and I knew very little about it. The interior was black with yellow stripes, and it had a black and yellow tach sitting up on the dash to the right of the instrument cluster.

    It was so cold I couldn't even get a salesman to come out! Eventually one did, and they got someone to jump start it because the battery was dead. With the hood open it was all spare tire, air cleaner and that yellow plastic belt cover. But it fired right up, and we took it for a drive. Coming from a '66 Mustang with a 4bbl 289 V8 and an auto, it was very different - and I was hooked! Dad was happy since it was only $1800.

    I loved that car, did some mods to it (lowered, cam, gearbox from an Estate I got from the junkyard, better exhaust manifold, lowered, recurved distributor, etc.), and autocrossed it a little. I've had some cars I really liked since, but the 500 Abarth is the first one that really brings back that feeling.

    I'll re-post this picture:
    Fiat1Crop2000.jpg
    IMG_5158cr.jpg
    Last edited by HalfPint; 03-28-2020 at 08:43 PM.
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    Cool story; thanks for sharing it!

    I bought a 1969 FIAT 850 Sport Coupe in 1977. It was at a FIAT dealership in Everett Washington. It was well used, and the battery was dead. Maybe that's a thing? I push started it so my wife and I could take a test drive.

    I used it to commute to a Coast Guard base in Seattle, where I was stationed. Very fun car. Although not really sporty, it sure felt that way to me.

    I agree that the 500 really brings back that feeling. We sure love our 500!

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    Thanks for sharing that story with us. The Fiat Rally you had was really cool. I had a couple of 128s , but not a Rally so I appreciated the tach and other trim the Rally had. The station wagon trans was the hot ticket! Must have been a blast to drive. The 128 was a great car and a significant car in the automotive world. Most people have no idea of how significant.


    I posted these brochures before, so apologies in advance, but I never really get tired of looking at old brochures.






    Here's a couple of other 128 images I have for old time's sake.














    Autobianchi Primula paved the way for the 128 and all modern FWD cars to follow.

    Some 128 content in these stories: http://www.fiat500usa.com/2009/02/dante-giacosa.html

    http://www.fiat500usa.com/2019/03/fi...e-of-fiat.html

    Safety video with a 128 crash in it: http://www.fiat500usa.com/2010/05/lo...-131brava.html
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    Senior Member HalfPint's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fiat500USA View Post
    Thanks for sharing that story with us. The Fiat Rally you had was really cool. I had a couple of 128s , but not a Rally so I appreciated the tach and other trim the Rally had. The station wagon trans was the hot ticket! Must have been a blast to drive. The 128 was a great car and a significant car in the automotive world. Most people have no idea of how significant.


    I posted these brochures before, so apologies in advance, but I never really get tired of looking at old brochures.

    Here's a couple of other 128 images I have for old time's sake.


    Autobianchi Primula paved the way for the 128 and all modern FWD cars to follow.

    Some 128 content in these stories: http://www.fiat500usa.com/2009/02/dante-giacosa.html

    http://www.fiat500usa.com/2019/03/fi...e-of-fiat.html

    Safety video with a 128 crash in it: http://www.fiat500usa.com/2010/05/lo...-131brava.html
    I like the old literature too! Those seats were pretty comfortable.

    Thinking about it again I'm pretty sure I got it in '83, not '84. After school I got a job in Southern Maryland out near the Patuxent point, but still had a girlfriend back home so I drove back to Allentown a lot. I took the bridge at Annapolis and crossed the Delmarva on 301, usually at night, about a 4hr drive - there's not much out there. The 128 with a 4spd and 4.42:1 final drive would scream the whole way - I used to cruise at 5000rpm, which was about 75mph. It never hurt the engine but it got a little tiring. Plus I lived in a condo and had no where to work on it, so I got new car fever and bought an '86 Escort GT, which was pretty cool at the time. It never had the charm or the dynamics of the Fiat though.

    The 4.42:1 gears really woke the 128 up, as did a bunch of smaller mods I did. At that time the local junkyards had a lot of them, and I picked up a lot of parts from earlier models, like the 4-2-1 exhaust manifold setup that was almost like a header. I got an early distributor with a different advance curve, and modded that further, which gave much better throttle response, plus the carb was re-jetted. I learned how Webers worked, and used to grab jets out of every similar carb whenever I was at the junkyard. Eventually I ported the head mildly. It was lowered and I had 185/70 tires on it. The car ran really well.

    An interesting side story - in the Escort GT had a Bosch vane-type mass air flow sensor which was defective, and at cold temps the wiper would lose contact with the resistor. One time late on a frigid night driving across that Delmarva peninsula it happened, and I could only idle or accelerate near wide open. I had to make the rest of the trip running it up to 90mph and then letting it coast back down!
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkL View Post
    Cool story; thanks for sharing it!

    I bought a 1969 FIAT 850 Sport Coupe in 1977. It was at a FIAT dealership in Everett Washington. It was well used, and the battery was dead. Maybe that's a thing? I push started it so my wife and I could take a test drive.

    I used it to commute to a Coast Guard base in Seattle, where I was stationed. Very fun car. Although not really sporty, it sure felt that way to me.

    I agree that the 500 really brings back that feeling. We sure love our 500!
    I still want an 850 - as an engineer part of the appeal of Fiats to me is the design and engineering of them. I design products, and I'm always thinking about the reaction of someone who knows what they are looking at if they should take it apart - I want someone like that to be impressed, to feel good about it. This is the reaction many Fiats give me, and the 850 design has always impressed me. The front suspension, which was also used in the rear of the 128, is very cool - it uses the leaf spring as both the main spring and as an anti-roll spring, but it still has real A-arms. The whole packaging of the drivetrain is impressive, and it's combined with very appealing style.

    The 500's MultiAir system is very close to the solenoid operated valve system my friends and I used to discuss back in college. I understand what they did, and I'm quite impressed with it. The rest of the car's packaging is also very well done, and the whole works very well. I guess it's why I don't want to modify my Abarth, as the design and development work that went into it was clearly well done, and I think the compromises were about what I would want for a road car.
    Completely stock 2016 500 Abarth, Rhino & Nero

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    I'm a retired engineer and, like you, I often tend to think of think of things in terms of their engineering; including the compromises that were made, and why they chose to do what they did.

    My degree is in electrical engineering, but most of my career was in manufacturing engineering. I'm much more interested in physical/mechanical things than I am in electrical/electronics. Plus, with many years as a member of design teams, I have an interest in how things work, and also the industrial design: the way the product looks, and how the product and people interact. FIAT nailed it with the 500. And, yes, the 850 and 128 (and others) were impressive for their design simplicity and 'correctness' for the job. Too bad they rusted so easily. Poor quality steel I guess.

    Wouldn't mind having an 850 again. I think I could make room in the shop for another car...

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    Senior Member HalfPint's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkL View Post
    I'm a retired engineer and, like you, I often tend to think of think of things in terms of their engineering; including the compromises that were made, and why they chose to do what they did.

    My degree is in electrical engineering, but most of my career was in manufacturing engineering. I'm much more interested in physical/mechanical things than I am in electrical/electronics. Plus, with many years as a member of design teams, I have an interest in how things work, and also the industrial design: the way the product looks, and how the product and people interact. FIAT nailed it with the 500. And, yes, the 850 and 128 (and others) were impressive for their design simplicity and 'correctness' for the job. Too bad they rusted so easily. Poor quality steel I guess.

    Wouldn't mind having an 850 again. I think I could make room in the shop for another car...
    Interesting - I'm also an EE, but have done a lot of mechanical design on housings & packaging, including design aluminum extrusions and machined flat stock, etc. Plus lots of time dealing with manufacturing, fixtures and tooling, etc. Of course a product has to work well, but it also has to look good. Fiat got it right with the 500!
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    Quote Originally Posted by HalfPint View Post
    I still want an 850 - as an engineer part of the appeal of Fiats to me is the design and engineering of them. I design products, and I'm always thinking about the reaction of someone who knows what they are looking at if they should take it apart - I want someone like that to be impressed, to feel good about it. This is the reaction many Fiats give me, and the 850 design has always impressed me. The front suspension, which was also used in the rear of the 128, is very cool - it uses the leaf spring as both the main spring and as an anti-roll spring, but it still has real A-arms. The whole packaging of the drivetrain is impressive, and it's combined with very appealing style.

    The 500's MultiAir system is very close to the solenoid operated valve system my friends and I used to discuss back in college. I understand what they did, and I'm quite impressed with it. The rest of the car's packaging is also very well done, and the whole works very well. I guess it's why I don't want to modify my Abarth, as the design and development work that went into it was clearly well done, and I think the compromises were about what I would want for a road car.
    I also appreciate the cleverness and thoughtfulness in their designs. Back when many were just phoning it in and taking the easy way out with dated engineering features like live rear axles on leaf springs (notably the Japanese and American brands), Fiat was striving to do something better. The kicker was all this clever engineering and design were for affordable cars for every day people. They gave an average person the ability to own a car with a twin overhead cam engine, 5-speed transmission, 4-wheel disc brakes. Bodies designed by the top designers. Cutting edge space utilization and safety features. Fiat back then really set the standard and were the cars to beat. All were interesting.



    Even when Fiat did something using traditional features, like leafsprings, Dante Giacosa had to improve the design. For example, the Fiat 125 used leaf springs, but unlike the competition, there were locating rods to control the geometry.

    Like you mention, the 500 also caries over the clever engineering. Take the rear suspension. The shocks on the 500 are canted over so they don't intrude on the interior/trunk space. Next time someone takes a look at a car with a torsion beam axle, notice how the upright shocks (typically with concentric springs which take even more space) intrude on the trunk room. It is all in the details...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fiat500USA View Post
    I also appreciate the cleverness and thoughtfulness in their designs. Back when many were just phoning it in and taking the easy way out with dated engineering features like live rear axles on leaf springs (notably the Japanese and American brands), Fiat was striving to do something better. The kicker was all this clever engineering and design were for affordable cars for every day people. They gave an average person the ability to own a car with a twin overhead cam engine, 5-speed transmission, 4-wheel disc brakes. Bodies designed by the top designers. Cutting edge space utilization and safety features. Fiat back then really set the standard and were the cars to beat. All were interesting.

    Even when Fiat did something using traditional features, like leafsprings, Dante Giacosa had to improve the design. For example, the Fiat 125 used leaf springs, but unlike the competition, there were locating rods to control the geometry.

    Like you mention, the 500 also caries over the clever engineering. Take the rear suspension. The shocks on the 500 are canted over so they don't intrude on the interior/trunk space. Next time someone takes a look at a car with a torsion beam axle, notice how the upright shocks (typically with concentric springs which take even more space) intrude on the trunk room. It is all in the details...
    I think that's why while I can appreciate the 130 coupe shown recently, it just doesn't appeal to me the way a 600, 850 or 128 does. Then they would go and make really nice coupes and spiders from these platforms, also quite affordable.

    That angled shock on the 500 came in for some criticism recently, as if the angle made the shock less effective. However you can just increase the tube and piston diameter and get the same damping with less movement.

    Incidentally, my girlfriend during high school and college had a 131/Brava for a time - I think it was a '79 (2L but with a carb, IIRC). It was a pretty nice ride with a really nice interior.
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    What got me started with Fiats was when I was a kid, my dad got a '67 124 sedan and I started reading up on it. It was Car of The Year in '66 and was universally acclaimed as a great car. Even Consumer Reports praised it and it was a "Best Pick". I got a book from the library called "The New Fiat Guide" by Jan P. Norbye and it had a whole chapter on the 124. Norbye was a noted automotive journalists (when they had real journalists) and he wrote:

    "...the design and experimental work on the Fiat 124 would have been worthy of a car costing $10,000."

    Before that, I wasn't really interested in cars as my Dad usually had the usual Detroit iron in various states of deep decay. With the Fiat, there were magazine articles and books saying it was a good car. It was a car I was not embarrassed to be seen in. LOL

    That car was eventually rear ended on the Palisades Parkway when a car crashed into the back at high speed ( a drunk driver passing a line of cars coincidentally in a brand new '74 X1/9.). I was in the back seat and everyone emerged OK. If I were in a VW or most other small cars of that era, I likely would not be here. I became a true believer in the company that would give a $1500 car the same safety engineering as a much more expensive car. It was easy to be a fan back then.


    Here's a couple of images of a Fiat Brava for those trying to remember:



    The interior was awesome in the Brava:

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